Your open enrollment announcement can help beyond benefits
By: Mady Peterson
The organization-wide open enrollment announcement usually feels more like a dreaded chore than an opportunity for engagement. And if it’s true for you, it’s doubly true for the employees who receive it. Open enrollment instructions most often come wrapped in technical language and without clear guideposts. Employees may not know what they need to do, but they know that, somehow, a lot of money is at stake.
Everything that makes writing an open enrollment announcement stressful also makes it a moment worth investing in.
It’s high visibility.
It reaches employees in a moment when they’re vulnerable.
And it reminds them how deeply embedded your organization is in their lives.
Get it right, and you can reach a huge percentage of your workforce with a message that calms their fears and reminds them why they want to work for your organization. It’s so much more than an obligation that comes with offering mandatory benefits. It’s an opening to encourage employee retention alongside benefit participation.
Craft an open enrollment announcement as unique as your culture
If you don’t take the time to write an email or post an update, you can’t ask employees to take the time to read one.
You can — and should — take advantage of any resources that you have, from the open enrollment announcement templates your benefits partners provide to the expert context your consultants can put around any changes. Then you should bring in what’s unique to your organization.
Maybe it’s a set of core values your people rally around. Maybe it’s a respected leader people are eager to listen to. Maybe it’s real-life examples of what your team has been through in the past year. Whatever is going to make your message your message, lean into it. Employees have to open the letter (or at least really should), so make it an opportunity to remind them what’s special about where they work.
While we do think your open enrollment letter should go beyond the bare facts you’re legally required to communicate, that doesn’t mean it’s an opportunity for spin, sugar or fluff. The thing employees will value most is transparency — followed closely by respecting their time enough to keep it brief.
First, give employees clear and concise open enrollment instructions
While culture building can be a fabulous side effect of sending your open enrollment letter, the primary goal is always communicating the facts. You want to be clear with employees about what’s changing, why and what they need to do. When information flows freely in an organization, employees are 61% more likely to feel valued and 69% more likely to trust their company, per Limeade research.
Fortunately, you don’t have to do this alone — or do all of it in one announcement. As long as you’re clear about who will be affected by the changes and how to learn more, you can follow up with additional materials, in many cases provided by your benefits vendor. Consider working with them to develop decision guides that walk employees through all the variables — deductibles, co-payments, HSA contributions, covered services, provider network details and more — so they can make informed choices without needing to learn about changes that don’t apply to them. You can also consider bringing in a benefit vendor for a lunch and learn, one-on-one appointments, whatever best suits the needs of your team.
This is also the moment to consider your technical partners. Straightforward, compassionate communications are effective at getting people to take action. So make sure IT is prepared to handle that activity. Working directly with the people managing your systems will help ensure your employees can complete the actions that you’re guiding them to, and that you’ve captured all the necessary nuance about the system. The more IT can streamline the process with data sharing and single sign on, the more likely your people will be to complete it.
Then, communicate the employee benefits beyond healthcare and 401(k)s
Getting the attention of the entire company isn’t an everyday event. On the rare occasions where you have access to everyone, make the most of it. You don’t want to clutter your open enrollment instructions with unnecessary add-ons, but you do want to provide enough context and detail about your program to show employees that you’re thinking about their health holistically.
For each point that you must communicate, consider how you might point employees to an underused resource that can support them in that area. If they’re updating their healthcare plan, perhaps it’s pointing them to a solution like Limeade, which allows them to access a library of well-being challenges and all of the related resources you have to offer. Ditto for updating their 401(k)s. If your EAP includes access to a financial advisor, or if you have financial well-being exercises, add that on to show employees that while you need them to do something — communicate their preferences for the coming year — you also have something to offer them.
This approach of showing employee care with each communication isn’t just about building culture and improving retention, though it does that. It’s also about improving employee well-being and lowering your long-term costs. Limeade research shows that 72% of employees with high well-being say they also have high organizational support — a strong correlation between the investment you make in employees and the health of your workplace.
Make space to listen to employee concerns about open enrollment, and anything else
Communication doesn’t happen one way. When you’re working hard to ensure you tick absolutely every box with your open enrollment announcement, it’s sometimes easy to forget the most important metric — how it’s received.
In every communication you send, include some way for employees to share feedback — and pay attention to it. Not only will it help you solve any potential problems in the moment, it’ll provide invaluable information for how to structure future communications. Including next year’s open enrollment rollout.
Yes, it may not be anyone’s favorite thing to think about when they’re in the thick of it, but open enrollment will be rolling around again in a year. Paying attention to what works and doesn’t work for your team today will help you share information more effectively next enrollment season.
As you make space for employees, make space for yourself too. It’s one thing to tout the value of self-care, but if you’re running yourself into the ground doing it, employees will see it’s not really something the company values. Making the time to restore your own energy during this particularly stressful time isn’t a selfish act. It’s the only way you can give employees the care they need, and a way for you to lead by example.
Use each employee communication as a chance to show that the company cares
Open enrollment isn’t the only time of year you’re asked to reach the whole company. Instead of stressing over each all-employee communication, see them for what they are: critical touchpoints for communicating organizational values. The more serious the occasion, the greater reach you’re likely to have. Use these rare moments in front of a captive audience to directly and indirectly tell employees that the company cares about them, that it sees them and that it’s invested in them.
Taking the time to customize the message can be as simple as personalizing the To field, or as involved as sending a personal letter from a company leader. The level of effort depends entirely on the reach of the message and the availability of resources. When deciding the second, though, remember one important thing: These are more than mandatory messages. They’re investments in your people.